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6/28/2007
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Opening Up A Can Of Spam, I Mean Worms

When I wrote my story yesterday about a self-proclaimed anti-spam activist's feud with a company he accused of being a "spammer", I knew I was touching on a sensitive issue, but I didn't realize just how sensitive until today. Both sides took exception to the wording of passages in my story, particularly those that used the "s" word, and I'm sure that neither side will be looking to shake hands and laugh abou

When I wrote my story yesterday about a self-proclaimed anti-spam activist's feud with a company he accused of being a "spammer", I knew I was touching on a sensitive issue, but I didn't realize just how sensitive until today. Both sides took exception to the wording of passages in my story, particularly those that used the "s" word, and I'm sure that neither side will be looking to shake hands and laugh about this anytime soon.You don't need me to tell you that spam is a very big problem for IT departments and their users. Spam hogs bandwidth, transmits malware, and eats away at productivity. But it's arguably just as big a problem for a company to be accused of sending spam. As Oklahoma ISP Mark Mumma found, calling a company a "spammer" is a serious accusation with serious consequences. Mumma initially threatened to identify Omega Word Travel, a provider of online booking tools and flight tracking information, as a "spammer" on his various anti-spam Web sites, but instead, the courts say he defamed Omega, and he's now been ordered to pay that company $330,000 in damages.

There's a lot of he said/he said going back and forth between Mumma and Omega's legal team. Omega pointed out to me that they've spent a lot of money to successfully defend themselves against being labeled a "spammer" (something the courts agree that they're not). Mumma, meanwhile, isn't convinced, calling the header in Omega's marketing e-mails deceptive and claiming he never signed up to receive their e-mails.

The issues of unsolicited e-mails (or "spam"), e-mail lists, e-mail headers, compensation, defamation, and reputation all play a role in this case. Both sides agree that Omega is a legitimate business. Their primary disagreement is on the difference between marketing and spamming. The court has decided in this case -- in favor of Omega. But the line between the two can be vague.

I'm most curious at this point to know how much of a problem you perceive spam to be. How do you define spam, and is the problem growing? Be sure to weigh in with your thoughts.

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